Can Facebook Messenger’s Two New Security Features Help Banks?

  • Philip Ryan
  • July 8, 2016
  • 1

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / snipFacebook Messenger is increasing its security in a bid to be your primary messaging app — and maybe your primary banking app, too.

A limited number of Facebook Messenger’s more than 900 million users gained access to two new security features today: end-to-end encryption, meaning only the sender and recipient can view the content of the messages and they can’t be read if intercepted; and self-destructing messages, which will be familiar to users of Snapchat.

Called “secret conversations,” the encryption protects messages from third parties and prying eyes, but TechCrunch notes that this “means Facebook can’t enable some of the chatbot and payment features that are normally a part of the Messenger experience.”

Blocking chatbots and payments, the two areas where financial services have made the most inroads in messaging — would seem to limit the usefulness of secret conversations. But the feature could facilitate secure communications with financial institutions, and Messenger also allows for phone calls and video chat. Users reluctant to enter confidential information in a text or chat app might be encouraged by secret (or self-destructing) conversations.

Secret conversations only operate on the iOS and Android Messenger apps for now, not in the main Facebook app or on desktop versions.  Facebook released a whitepaper on secret conversations, which are built on the open-source Signal platform, here. Messages are protected by a combination of public and private keys and hashing, much like the blockchain. Here is Techopedia on hashing:

Hashing is generating a value or values from a string of text using a mathematical function. Hashing is one way to enable security during the process of message transmission when the message is intended for a particular recipient only. A formula generates the hash, which helps to protect the security of the transmission from unauthorized users.

The self-destructing messaging operate as they do on Snapchat — users set an expiration date, upon which the message disappears from both the sender’s and the recipient’s device. This could be useful for peer-to-peer payments — take the $20 before it disappears — or discount codes and offers from merchants.

Neither of these features are new or unique to Messenger. Viber and WhatsApp both have end-to-end encryption, for example. And neither feature was likely designed with financial services in mind. But as Messenger popularity grows and the platform becomes more powerful, banks and other financial services providers already leveraging the platform in other ways will need to know how the new features can work for them.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism, which makes him quite old. He can be reached at

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